It’s hard to imagine what twenty five years of love, energy and tears poured in one project would feel like. It’s sometimes even harder to imagine what twenty five years consistently working alongside, travelling alongside and living a life co-entwined with a sibling and close friend would feel like. It’s hard, but that’s exactly what The Waifs have been doing for the past quarter of a century.
Next month will see these living pieces of modern Australian music history embark on a 25 year anniversary tour, taking with them a brand new collection of 25 songs recorded in a half-finished house, assembled into album format and named Ironbark. Locally they’ll be playing at the Bangalow A & I hall on Tuesday 4th April (sold out) as well as Wednesday 5th April (not sold out yet, tickets available at www.thewaifs.com )
We were blessed to spend a short amount of time discussing the upcoming tour and the 25 year milestone with The Waifs member Donna, prior to this upcoming tour. This is how it went.
CG – How does 25 years feel?
Waifs – Surreal. (laughter) Twenty fives years feels surreal, it’s a really odd place. We had to get reminders that it was 25 years, you know how life just goes so fast. There are times when I look back and think what was done in those 25 years is phenomenal; it’s been incredible what we have achieved. The countries we’ve travelled, the people we’ve met, the artists we’ve been able to see and sit side of stage of. It really took us by surprise.
CG – That sounds like you’ve really been living a good 25 years ‘in the moment’ then, if you didn’t realise it was coming up
Waifs – I don’t know how many bands make it that far, you know? Most bands only kind of make it ten years or so, and if they do make it longer they have massive breaks in between and come back together for a reunion tour. We’ve never really done that though, we always just keep going
CG – Yeah, you guys don’t stop. Have you ever thought about stopping?
Waifs – Oh yeah (laughter) In a massive fight, not stopping it’s like “I QUIT”. It’s either me or Vicky, and there’s Josh in the corner crying out “no, no don’t quit!”.
But really, that’s how it’s been at times. It’s been more of a personality thing, but it’s the music that always brings us back together; and the love. I mean Vicki and I are sisters, imagine taking one of your siblings travelling for 25 years.
We never thought about it too much, all we wanted to do was travel and it kinda just came about. The music just took over, it’s like this weird blessing, it’s hard to explain.
CG – You goal obviously isn’t to get rich and famous, it’s to make music and travel and have it work for you. Do you think that’s contributed to your enduring success?
Waifs – Not having a plan? Absolutely. We saw so many bands have a big grand plan and when nothing came through they wouldn’t know what to do.
I recall years ago, in 1998 we were driving in a camper van and we’d just gotten our first mobile phone when a big record company called and they said we want to talk to you guys about a record deal. They asked how many albums we were selling and they said “we can give you $1.70 per album and can get you on TV’. I said, “we earn $25 an album at our shows, and we don’t want to be on TV”.
Things have changed a lot since we started.
CG – They have, and along with that came a lot more recording options for artists also. It makes me think of how you recorded your last album in a house…
Waifs – A half built house
CG – A half built house. That’s something that you may not have been able to do at the start of your career
Waifs – You can record outside anywhere now. Technology is great now, you can record outside around a lake with beautiful microphones and get what you need, studios are for people who want to record track to track.
We’re just going back to our roots now. We’ve recorded in a mansion in LA, in the guts of New York City, in a studio in Nashville, in Minneapolis. It always felt wrong to us and we kinda went with it cause we didn’t know any better. Then we go out to Josh’s property where he’s this beautiful half built stone house, setup a few great microphones and some baffles. It was a great experience, we all sat in a circle, hit record and just played. Then we’d play it ’til we nailed it, then move on.
CG – Overall, did you find this process easier or harder than in the past, and was it more beneficial to your sound?
Waifs – It was romantic! After 25 years half cut between America and Australia we finally found ourselves in this forest, sitting down recording music together, it was incredible. We all cooked together every night and take a break and sit down in a circle and sing and work out our harmonies. That’s the way we always should’ve done it. For so many years we got caught a long way away from that recording where others said we should, but now looking back I can see it wasn’t for us. This is totally going back to The Waifs roots and I fucking love this album!
CG – What do you write about after 25 years?
Waifs – Well, I’m still having breakups. I’m the Kylie Minogue of the band, unlucky in love. My heartfelt breakup songs used to be quite angry, I used to sing quite nasty songs but now I’m a mum i’m a lot softer and more gracious about it; I sing about things like that.
Another song I wrote was about an old rich woman who keeps poisoning her husbands and getting richer and richer, it’s called sugar mama (laughter)
Then, I wrote a song called Syria which is… one day I was sitting outside and this song came to me. I was sitting in my garden and I could see this Syrian man’s face and hear his story while I had my guitar in my hands. I’ve got my little kids running around outside complaining because they don’t have enough ice cream, and there’s this man, saving his coins to put his kids on a boat in the middle of the night. I found myself shaking after thinking “where the fuck did that come from”.
CG – You guys reached out to your fans to hear their stories of how The Waifs were involved in their life, it’s a fascinating spin on things, have you ready any of them and do any stand out?
Waifs – I’ve read some, I haven’t had much of a chance to read them all with the things going on at the moment but there’s been lot of beautiful stories over the years. People say they met at a Waifs concert, it was their soundtrack whilst driving across the Nullarbor, it was their soundtrack while picking fruit in Kununurra. There’s a lot of romance in there.
There’s one girl that drives from Broken Hill to Adelaide. She won’t miss a show. It’s great to see what the band means to these people, it’s really heartfelt, it’s really cool.
Our fans are so loyal and that’s why we want to say thanks for 25 years, because without them, we’d be playing to empty houses.
CG – How does it feel to have such a far reaching influence into people’s lives through your music?
Waifs – That’s a great question. Personally, I feel like I’m a fuck-up who plays music. I’m really quite vulnerable and I have all my shit going on, I’m very vulnerable and very open so maybe that’s why people can relate. They feel like we’re just like them but don’t pop us on a pedestal.
CG – We’re looking forward to seeing you at Bangalow shortly, any parting words?
Waifs – Jez Mead. To me he’s the most under-rated artist in Australia, he’s been my muse for years and he’s playing with us on the 5th April in Bangalow.